Schools would support continuation of testing pupils for COVID as debates continue over lifting of restrictions

An academy trust in Leeds says it remains committed to regular COVID testing of students and staff as debates continue over whether mask wearing and social distance restrictions will be lifted later this month.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 5:45 pm

Returning school pupils are being asked to play their part in keeping coronavirus rates under control as ministers consider whether to delay lifting all restrictions amid rising cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock who signalled he was in favour of vaccinating 12-15-year-olds to prevent school outbreaks, told pupils returning to classrooms this week after the half-term break that the "most important thing" they could do was get tested to ensure they are not asymptomatically carrying the virus.

He said that a "huge proportion" of the latest cases are in children and a major testing programme has been in place since March to help identify and isolate asymptomatic cases and ensure schools are kept open.

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A lateral flow test for COVID.

Pupils are encouraged to build twice-weekly testing routines, which the Government say has been "critical" to reaching the milestone number of tests but that the Indian variant, which has become dominant in the UK, looks to be 40 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain.

Leanne Griffiths, Executive Principal: 11-16 Education, The GORSE Academies Trust said its schools follow the government guidance for tests, social distancing, handwashing and mask wearing.

She added: "As a trust, we continue to encourage our school communities to engage with lateral flow testing, and a significant percentage of our students and staff remain committed testing twice-weekly. We also ensure our students and staff continue to follow social distancing rules, hand washing, and the wearing of face coverings within communal areas in line with National and local guidance."

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: "Rapid testing has underpinned the entire reopening of schools and it's been a remarkable success that is testament to the herculean efforts of teachers, children and parents playing their part by making a test part of their everyday lives.

School pupils line up to take lateral flow tests.

"Around one in three people who have Covid-19 experience no symptoms and could go under the radar without regular testing.

"By getting tested multiple times a week, children have shown us that it is possible to keep the things we all love open by quickly identifying outbreaks and taking decisive action.

"As parents gear up to return their children to the classroom tomorrow, I'd urge them all to carry on doing their bit by keeping calm and carrying on testing during the term ahead."

And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said he had serious concerns over safety and potential disruption to education if measures started to be lifted.

He said: "We have been hearing from our members that more and more schools are having to close multiple classes or 'bubbles', particularly in areas with higher case numbers. This latest official data release appears to support those concerns.

"The Government must be proactive and use all the provisions of the existing contingency framework to ensure that transmission in schools is not allowed to proceed unchecked.

"We must not sleepwalk into further widespread disruption to education."